Begin with a spiritual beloved child.
And think on spiritual development on our journey as Christians!
God continues to infuse us with His initiating first-love, our fuel for lifelong LifeChange. Fundamentally, we must see God’s Big-picture view to naturally prepare us for life and ministry flowing from the spiritual seed or DNA with which God designed us.
Take the cable car to the top of the Schilthorn Mountain in Switzerland. Seat yourself awestruck in the 360-degree rotating restaurant, Piz Gloria. The one time I was there, I felt like I was sitting on the top of the world in the Swiss Alps, in the center of the panoramic beauty of the surrounding peaks.
Similarly, gaze with breathtaking awe at the panoramic Big-picture perspective on our journey of spiritual development as Christians as the Apostle John describes in 1 John 2:12-14. Sixty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostle John provides a glimpse into a flexible, progressive strategy for personal spiritual growth on our lifelong, transformational journey. Together these three cycles of growth lay a healthy, synergistic framework for ongoing Christian development as lifelong life-learners and doers.
Big-Picture of Spiritual Development
Since the Christian life is progressive, each cycle builds upon the previous one. Don’t skip any. It’s also recursive. This niche word means that the experience from a later cycle also circles back, impacting and enriching previous cycles. For instance, we don’t grow out of a spiritual beloved child, never to return again. Additionally, our current experience cycles back and provides additional light and depth to earlier experiences. And God often seems to give us quick glimpses of cycles we have not yet reached.
So John sketches out three essential, developmental cycles for personal spiritual growth, spiritual beloved child, young adult (warrior) and a reproducing father (more like how a “father” raises teenagers or a grandpa with his grandchildren). Please don’t approach this as an ironclad mold to wedge our lives into. God calls us on a way. Not a formula. Not simply dogma. It’s a process with an incremental pathway centered in relationship. Enjoy our three divine Friends on the way.
Each cycle has its unique lessons of the trail to be learned and challenges to overcome as we follow hard after Jesus. Each cycle can also be cut short or stalled, leaving our inner person underdeveloped, like a Bozai Tree with a stunted root structure. This has profound implications for our understanding of spiritual development, and how God works in various seasons of life.
1st Cycle: Spiritual Beloved Child: Overview
For the 1st cycle, a spiritual beloved child in the Family of God, John opens up brief glimpses into three essentials for healthy growth during this initial cycle as sons and daughters.
I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name…because you have known the Father (1 John 2:12-14, essentials).
1. Because of God’s full forgiveness (“your sins have been forgiven”), He fully accepts/affirm/appreciates us. God’s forgiveness deals with all our sin and its accompanying guilt and shame so we have free access into His presence.
2. Because we know the Father’s heart of initiating love (“have known the Father”), we experience belonging in His Family. Are you as overwhelmed to be a spiritual beloved child as the Apostle John was (1 John3:1-2)?
3. Because Jesus is our Model (“on account of His name”), He begins to train and outfit us with the basics to battle in the Kingdom We partner with Him from the get-go in little adventurettes to build experience and confidence.
Since all three are crucial and deepen over a lifetime, I call these the ABC’s of identity/value/worth resting in our Team-of-Three (Acceptance, Belonging, Confidence). Lay this foundation well as a spiritual beloved child.
John also opens this cycle up to progress within growth during this cycle by using two different words. The first is a young child and the other what we call a “tweener.” As a “tweener,” we first begin to discover our own way in the world as we search for our identity. Growth is dynamic, not static.
1. Accepted/Affirmed (Full and Final Forgiveness)
Forgiveness is remedial, removing all that stands in the way of relationship with the Father. The Father showered His love onto the whole world by sending Jesus to take on Himself the sins of the world. His death is sufficient for all, yet only efficient for those who personally receive it by faith. The blood of Christ shed on the cross pays for our sins in full and restores relationship. This also removes all our guilt (for what we did) and shame (for who we are) since both are attached to separation from God(spiritual death). The hard things that used to keep us from God, the bad things we were ashamed of, Jesus removed all these barriers through faith in Christ. Trust the sufficiency of the completed work of Christ on the cross.
With the barriers removed at the moment of personal faith in Christ, we are now fully accepted, affirmed and appreciated by our Family-of-Three. Faith in Christ’s work shatters the locks on the door into the Father’s presence. He invites us to rush into His presence and bounce on His knee on His throne as often as we wish.
This is our identity as a spiritual beloved child (not all but a very significant part).
God makes us worthy because worthiness always flows from His presence, “accepted in Christ” (Romans 15:7). In Jesus our Lord, this free and full forgiveness delivers us from the downward spiral of sin and from our default to a poverty mentality based on shame and guilt. We now have what it takes, returning back to our true home in our Father, Son and Spirit.
If our life is not firmly grounded on this rock-solid assurance, we develop elaborate defense and coping mechanisms to block out pain and gain a fragment of counterfeit acceptance and significance. Look at Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, coping with separation from God by hiding and blame-shifting. Our growth gets stuck as these false strategies to secure counterfeit life actually block authentic life.
Satan’s schemes are always deceitful like this.
We attempt to use people and things to gain worth to meet what we feel we lack. Such counterfeits will never satisfy our deep inner thirst for relational intimacy and purpose with the Father. It’s not enough to just simply “let the past go.” Painful past events must be processed so that we experience the promised freedom and times of refreshing from the Lord. Forgiveness breaks off our poverty mentality (“I’m not enough” “I’m not able”). Also the false bravado of self-confident individualism.
Have you fully embraced Christ’s payment for every single one of your sins?
2. Belonging: Our Father Cares for His Kids
In Genesis 1 and 2, God fashioned humanity in the safe home of God’s surrounding Family-love. Home was walking in relational care and provision with God in the Garden. Adam and Eve experienced a freedom from restrained responses toward God and each other.
In Genesis 3, our ancestors aligned themselves instead with Satan, a deliberate choice to go rogue and enter into bondage. All humanity then became wanderers from our true home in God’s presence, separated from God and from one another by our sin, and its accompaniments, guilt and shame, condemnation and judgment. Full forgiveness through faith in Christ is the only way to remove all the barriers in order to restore relationship.
Since as worshipers “we become what we behold,” let’s choose to behold truth in Scripture as our identity, not any of the many wounds and temporary coping devices we accumulate in life. Soak in the unconditional belonging God has given us as His beloved child. The Good News shouts: “we are not what others have done to us.” God has a much better way.
You may have heard…
…that the way our physical father treated you limits how much you are able to embrace our heavenly Father’s love. Thankfully, early on my Christian journey I realized that my father-figure does not need to come from my earthly dad. I have a choice. And this is life-changing! It’s our caring Father’s good pleasure to gladly adopt us into His forever Family as His spiritual beloved child. Jesus takes us by the hand to lead us into His Family to also enjoy the Father and Spirit. Experience the wonder of belonging, perhaps for the first time. We are now His sons (Romans 8:15) …forever.
Since there is only one true Father-figure, I advise you to fire your physical dad from the “job position” you may have given him as your father-figure. Then replace your former father-figure with the one and only true Father-figure, God the Father. He is the only perfect Father (Matthew 5:48). Now forgive your dad’s imperfections and embrace him as dad… only!
Perhaps this is tough for you to hear.
If so, it may help to first learn more about your heavenly Father through double-negatives. “My caring Father will never, ever…”
- …neglect or reject me;
- …abandon or ignore me;
- …control or abuse me;
- …be absent, push me aside or withhold from me.
God the Father chose to fashion and re-create each and every one of His people to abide in this divine interconnectedness.
“The living God is a relationship, a community, a Trinity. And this God draws near to us to draw us near to himself within the circle of his knowing and loving of himself” (Darrell W. Johnson, Experiencing the Trinity (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2002, p. 69).
An inner spiritual homesickness draws new believers to finally return home, to our true home, infused by our Father’s love. You were born to be loved by your heavenly Father! Doesn’t it make sense that our creation-design would include within us a desire for what He already yearns to give us? God hard-wired us to love Him.
This is so crucial to believe that God designed us for the purpose of connecting with our Father. Studies show that people without a father are often adrift, feel alone and abandoned. Jesus Christ comes to fill that void, by bringing you by the hand to our caring Father, our only true Father-figure. Resting in His presence is our true home. Christianity begins and ends with relationship, first upward to God and also outward to people. We yearn for connectedness since we are born into an environment of disconnection ever since Genesis 3. No wonder our aloneness is so devastating!
Because our Father has fully forgiven us through faith in Christ, no barrier any longer blocks access into His presence for His “beloved child.” Talk about freedom! Have you watched a young child with a good, earthly father? The child is free as a bird in his/her father’s presence.
In a similar and much higher way,…
…our Father fully welcomes us into the Family of God, our true, original dwelling place. With His loving eyes, God fastens His gaze on you, lovingly on each of us individually. He honestly whispers: “You are my favorite.” We are prized as the apple of His eye, lovable as His beloved child, lovely in His sight. God imbeds His love deeply into our hearts. We now belong…forever!
“I see you!” “You are noticed, adored by Your Father, even like the Father noticed Jesus.” “You matter to Your Father.” “You are prized as His new Family.”
3. Confidence: Jesus Trains for Epic Adventure
It all began in the Garden. God doesn’t like to work alone. So when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He sent them on a daring adventure with Him into uncharted territory to discover and subdue the mysteries of His Garden. God’s universe came alive for them as they explored its wonders and embraced the daring adventure with His God-given authority. They were a force to be reckoned with. Adam and Eve also came alive with growing confidence as they became more competent partnering with God, as we do today (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
Jesus is the great Explorer, the “Second Man,” that is, the first completely human being since Adam fell in Genesis 3 (1 Cor. 15:47). Moms and dads in a family have the responsibility to develop and mature their children, preparing them for effective life. The Family of God prepares all God’s children for the “Family Business” of mission and DiscipleMaking.
Another aspect of our identity…
…is as a child of the King of all kings and Lord over all lords. I am not only a child in the Family of God, but also a warrior-prince (or-princess) in the Kingdom of God. As such, we are not only raised to love and trust our Father, but also we begin to train as part of His warrior-army.
So from this safe place in the Family of God, we go out on short forays in adventurettes that stretch our faith, confidence and skills to battle spiritually in His army. Just like in training children, any good parent gives them enough to challenge, yet not more than our child can handle. Good parents also expose their children to a variety of activities so they can discover how they are wired. Developing trust and faithfulness under the eye of a coach leads to more challenging adventures.
This is the time to learn these first lessons in the field and build confidence. Launch little adventurettes with Jesus. Try out a variety of different ministries to see what fits. Lay the foundation to partner with our Team-of-Three in the epic, lifelong adventure to which our King calls us. Don’t settle, but risk-take (which makes space to “mistake-make”).
Because we all live in a war torn country. An invader usurped our homeland in Genesis 3. We must be trained as the Family of God at war. And God is outfitting His Kingdom army from those in His Family. So we teach all the basics of any family in this first spiritual cycle. Character and integrity. Kindness and loving compassion. Boldness and courage. How to brush our teeth and pick up our room (of course, the spiritual equivalents). And how to prepare for a long, fruitful life.
- For a PDF printout of this first blog in the four part series, click here.
- If you would like a free PDF of all four blogs plus the bonus expanded ideas from this blog, click here.
- See the next three blogs to continue in this four part series.
- For those who want more, I have written an unpublished manuscript, expanding on all these subjects with my musings. For the free downloadable PDF, click here.